Oswego Rocks!: Campus was the frequent scene of legends, stars and all-around good times

Q: Which of these era-defining artists have played Oswego?

The Doors

Sly and the Family Stone

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band

The Ramones

A: All of them. And many, many more.

If you flunked that “pop” quiz, you probably didn’t go to Oswego in the 1970s.

Billy Joel played Oswego in 1972, ’74 and ’78

From the late ’60s into the early ’80s, Oswego drew some of the biggest names in the music business — show after show, semester after semester. The list should impress any music fan and there’s no doubt these names entertained the many who packed Laker Hall, Hewitt ballroom, Regan’s Silver Lake and other venues.“We knew that we were in the midst of historical events — history was happening right there,” remembers Mark Allen Baker ’79, an author, historian and music fanatic. His personal archive is full of signed ticket stubs, record albums and contracts that he had the bands sign.

Rock and Roll Hall of Famers The Doors, Simon and Garfunkel, Sly and the Family Stone, the Four Tops, Billy Joel, B.B. King, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Seger, The Kinks and the Ramones all played Oswego, along with several other members of bands in the rock hall. Dozens of hit makers made stops here as well.

And it wasn’t just who appeared, but when. Oswego rock and pop fans reveled in some remarkably relevant acts. “The one that stuck out the most? Pat Benatar was on the cover of Rolling Stone on Wednesday and performed at Laker Hall on that Saturday,” recalls Bill Fargo ’81, a former Student Association senator. She was even wearing the same outfit.

“It’s just ridiculously great how many people they got who were taking smaller gigs like that,” says Fargo, who still keeps a poster from the 1975 Springsteen concert on his wall.

Comedian Steve Martin was getting face time on the cover of Newsweek shortly after his 1977 performance.

Peter Gabriel, then known as former member of British rock band Genesis, played his first North American tour date of 1978 at Laker Hall. In 1973, ex-Byrd David Crosby made his first continental U.S. stop here.

The Little College That Could … Rock

“We always felt proud if we got a show that Syracuse University didn’t,” remembers Ruth Wiseman ’79, who did advertising for the Program Policy Board as a student. “We were the little guys.”

But, apparently not to concert promoters. Boston-based Don Law, who remains a major force in the industry 40 years later, formed a special bond with Oswego early on and set the stage for what would arguably become the college’s golden era of entertainment.

“I was in the right place at the right time,” says Ken Kohberger ’75. He chaired PPB’s Concert Committee as a student and went on to work for Law.

“A lot of it had to do with the fact that the [music] industry was still very new,” explains Kohberger, who spent most of his career as a booking agent and concert promoter. “The concert circuit was just being established.”

If an act had a night off after shows in the still-thriving constellation of Upstate cities, they would take a date at Oswego, where music-loving Lakers were sure to pack their shows.

“It was constant — after a while you just anticipated a show coming within the next month,” says Russ D’Entrone ’72, former editor-in-chief of The Oswegonian.

He got to interview some of the acts that came through.

“There is an awe factor,” he said. “You’re talking about people that you may have their album or listen to them, and here they are sitting right in front of you, in the flesh.”

D’Entrone fondly remembers Tony Butala of the 1960s vocal group The Lettermen picking him up in his Cadillac. Butala was looking for Laker Hall, so they drove over together.

The Big Time

Oswego was building its rock reputation in the late 1960s — without really knowing it.

“We did try to find groups that would attract people … that people would talk about,” says Les Von Losberg ’69, M ’70, who co-founded the Hewitt Union Board of Managers. The predecessor to the Program Policy Board that started in 1971, HUBM was responsible for much of the entertainment, which included The Doors, Simon and Garfunkel, and Sly and the Family Stone.

MORE: A Sampling of Oswego Concerts, 1967-1982

 

Michael Lazar ’70 took in every show he could. He became a lifelong fan of The Association after they played Oswego in 1967. “They did two shows … They were just unbelievable,” said Lazar. “We had bands that everyone else was drooling over.”Lazar, who went on to a 40-year career working with NPR at the local and national levels, conducted many interviews for use at WRVO-FM, WSGO-AM and The Oswegonian. “I still have to catalog all my tapes. I can’t even remember half the groups
I interviewed.”But it wasn’t always easy getting them here. In the early 1970s, the newly formed PPB had some difficulty getting top acts who delivered on commitments. Then-concert chair Sally O’Herin ’73 remembers how frustrated she was when a Kinks show fell through.“It was not as big a business as it is today, so it was really hit-or-miss,” O’Herin says. “They’d find more money at another gig or change their tour.

“It really depended on who was touring and how much they were asking for,” she says. One of her favorite memories is chauffeuring singer-songwriter Richie Havens during his 1973 Oswego stop.

By the mid-1970s, Oswego had grown a knack for grabbing premiere acts. Big and rising stars David Crosby, B.B. King, Dave Mason, The Marshall Tucker Band, Don McLean and Billy Joel (his second time here) all appeared at Oswego during the 1973-74 academic year.

Bruce Springsteen and “Little Steven” Van Zant perform in 1975.

“That was what I walked into. I was blown away,” Baker says. “Here I am in my freshman year and that’s what was in front of me.”

He joined PPB’s Concert Committee as soon as he could and became a part of what he considers Oswego’s platinum decade.

“After Springsteen, things really took off … that really put us on the map,” Baker says of the Boss’s 1975 performance on the heels of his seminal Born to Run album and a Time magazine cover heralding him as “Rock’s New Sensation.”

PPB had doubled the size of the stage and invested in pipe and drape, transforming Laker Hall from gymnasium into a top-notch performance venue. “That’s how we were able to get acts like Springsteen,” Baker says.

“I didn’t know who he was. My roommate said I should go and she was from Downstate and so much more informed,” says Wiseman, who keeps a tin filled with ticket stubs from her Oswego days. “I was a lifetime fan from then on.”

Shows were cheap — just a few dollars — and the bands were huge. No wonder Laker Hall and Hewitt Union ballroom were routinely filled to capacity.

Another factor at the time was the closely shared music tastes among students. “It’s a coming of age and this [rock] was the genre that was holding everything together at the time,” said D’Entrone.

MORE: Oswego’s Jazz Rep Is ‘Solid’

By 1977, the concert committee was deciding between superstars. Baker recalls the difficult choice between the chart-topping Steve Miller Band or soon-to-be-huge Billy Joel.

Mark A. Baker ’79 recalled catching Steve Martin cruising the stacks at Penfield Library before his 1977 performance.

“We knew he was going to break big. I mean really big,” said Baker of Joel, who was already well-known.

They went with Joel, whose quintessential The Stranger was released that year. The show and the album were smash hits.

That type of foresight is what made the decade so compelling, Kohberger says. “The majority of them you turn on the radio, they’re still playing and some of them are still touring,” he notes.

Songs will often trigger Kohberger’s treasured memories of producing shows, like the time he presented Joel with a birthday cake and champagne on stage at the 1974 gig.

Baker remembers shooting hoops with Bob Seger — then a budding superstar on his Night Moves tour — before his set in Laker Hall.

“It was amazing to watch them set up for the concerts,” recalls Marcia Thompson-Young ’81, who was a PPB treasurer. Soundchecks were always a favorite for her and fellow PPBers.

It was common to have close encounters with the stars before their performances. Howard Gordon ’74M ’78, remembers going with a group of other students to pick up soul singer Patti LaBelle and her group from the airport.

The Kids Are Alright

The completely student-fueled PPB was responsible for the streak of success. “We had a great group of people who were involved,” says Wiseman. “Everybody took their jobs very seriously.”

“From promotion to production, our team was so good at what we did — that’s why we were able to accomplish what we did,” says Baker. “We felt like we would be letting our classmates down if we didn’t put on a good show.”

Mark A. Baker ’79, Peter Gabriel and Mark Lepkowski ’79

PPB had earned its independent status with a sterling reputation not only for putting on a good show, but for putting it on professionally and responsibly, Fargo says. The Student Association and administrators were pretty much hands-off and entrusted the PPB, which also provided movies and other programming, with a respectable chunk of funding.

Programming contributions came from music professors and other student organizations. The Black Student Union, for instance, helped draft acts for the annual Black History Week that included The Four Tops; War; Earth ,Wind and Fire; and Patti LaBelle.

“Those were people that we were not just hoping to see, but people we were advocating for,” says Gordon, a former member of both the BSU and PPB. “These were artists, performers
and lecturers we thought everyone should see.”

The BSU’s influence also brought icons like Muhammed Ali to campus in the early 1970s, one of Gordon’s most treasured memories.

PPB thrived into the 1990s, when it was replaced by the Student Association Programming Board. The great shows continued over the decades, but the years in and around the ’70s were unique.

It was a time that ensures students from any era can proudly proclaim “Oswego rocks!”

25 thoughts on “Oswego Rocks!: Campus was the frequent scene of legends, stars and all-around good times

  1. I worked with Mark and others on the stage crew in “77, ’78 and ’79 . What an experiance . Made friends with the roadies in The Charlie Daniels Band and the road manager ” Skinner ” Tey loved that my nickname “Bear”.
    Does anyone remember how loud and annoying Hot Tuna was?
    Worked the Peter Gabriel DIY tour . If anyone remebers we have to map out all the eqipment as they unloaded the trailers b/c it was the 1st night of the tour .Gabriel hid in the back of Laker Hall and came out singing shining a flash light in his face . One other memory is working like dogs to unload 4 trailers for Boston , set up the stage olny to tear it back down b/c Brad Delph had lost his voice in Syracuse the night before . Good Times !

    • I heard the dry ice from the phantom Boston show ended up in a residence hall that night :) And I agree with Skinner, Bear is a pretty sweet nickname. Thanks for reading, Bear!

      • I’ve only seen Jorma Kaukonen & Co. from the late 90s and never seen him pick up an electric guitar in those performances. He’s mellowed a bit since then, I guess :)

  2. That is so cool that these huge names performed at our school! I remember Guster played Spring 2002, my Freshman year…that made me love Oswego even more!

    • We couldn’t cover them all, but I’ve heard about some great campus performances in the ’90s and ’00s. Thanks for sharing this memory, Vanessa.

    • Hey Vanessa! I attended that concert with my daughter — It was a great show! (and we got the set list!)

  3. Congratulations on a great article! We were so lucky to have had all the vital pieces in place to create our little piece of rock ‘n’ roll history. Realizing not everyone could make it into this article, it would be remiss not to acknowledge the following individuals: Dauryne Valenti, Rich Kamzan, Chris Regean, Steve Bashe, Jeannie Brothers, Randy Henner, Rich Minchik, Rich Cassidy, Greg Cristman, Marty Lindemayer, Bob Greenhaus, Ken Schielke, Steve Litner, Patricia Rycraft, Mike Romeo, Brian McAloon, Mike Frazer, Rich Lertora, John Wallen, … and so many others.

    • Thank you very much, Mark. You were certainly a big part of making it happen. Thank you for rounding up some of those names from your era. One of the most impressive things about these shows is that they were student-powered! Very rock ‘n’ roll if I do say so myself :)

  4. Brings back some great memories(1970-1975) and there were so many more great concerts not mentioned (BB King, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Leo Kotke, etc.) Nice to hear that Ken continued to do what he loved after college(Waterbury Hall rocked).
    And I really enjoyed the Hot Tuna concert! They were all so wasted they didn’t know they were so extremely loud! Rest in Peace Papa John….

  5. I was a member of PPB with Mark Baker. Mark refers to the team effort, but Mark was our Concerts God. He had an amazing sense of which acts to book. He knew which acts would be superstars in the near future, before some of us ever heard of them. Mark pitched Steve Martin’s name to the committee, and we said, “Steve who?” Mark said, “He’s gonna be big.” The Bruce Springsteen concert remains my favorite concert ever. It was a magical December night. I believe Bob Seger was the opening act that night, right? Mark Baker was my idol.

    • No, Mary, Seger did his own concert a couple of years later. The Boss had no opening act. He never needed one.

  6. Great article; brought back great memories. Working security for those concerts (’75-’79), and setting up/breaking down the chairs in the gym, was exhausting and exhilirating – knowing, each time, we pulled off another successful show.
    Mark Baker did a phenomonal job and was a pleasure to work with. Glad to hear he turned his passion into a successful career!

  7. Great Article! Really brought me back to an amazing time – 1975 to 79. Thanks to Mark & Co. for helping to bring so much good music to the Land of Oz…

  8. I remember great shows in the 80′s, such as James Taylor, George Thorogood, Zebra, John Waite, and many more. I worked at student run WOCR, and had gone from Alternative to Top 40 to a real Rock Radio format (Powerradio!) and it all fit just great.
    We got the interviews and worked with the show producers. It was a very memorable part of my Oswego experience. Thanks very much to all those who worked so hard, such as Mark Baker and Ken Kohberger!

  9. I remember Molly Hatchet, Zebra, The Outfield, Squeeze, George Carlin and many others at Laker Hall. My fondest memory was delivering pizzas a few hours before the 10,000 Maniacs show and when I asked who ordered them Natalie Mechant walked up and said to me “We did, Honey.” That, and The James Cotton Band stopping into Old City Hall and coming up onto the stage and jamming with my humble little band after they played the ballroom. I remember the bass player telling Crazy Larry they would play a few more songs if he booked my band for another gig in the future. Good times…

  10. My favorite was Leslie West and Mountain in 1970,, I actually caught a pair of Corky Lang’s sticks.. I remember attending many concerts at the college while in high school also. Tommy James and the Shondells put on a great show in the Ballroom.. That was my exposure to Oswego State’s music scene..

    In 68 a couple of my bandmates and myself went out to help Deep Purple set up… There really was not much security then, Ritchie Blackmore could not find his Mosrite fuzz tone… I had one at my house… Ritchie gave me a ride to pick it up and checked out our gear…. A zillion twin twelve Sivertones… He was a very nice guy.. He seated us in the front row for the show.

    Rock On!!
    Dugie

  11. Thanks for the great article & video! I have so many great memories of OZ & most of them revolve around my years (75-79) on the concert committee. Mark is right; we worked with a great group of people all focused on putting on the best shows possible.

  12. Great article and great video supplied by Mark Baker. Mark and I joined PPB at the same time (we were next door neighbors in Oneida), I was on Cinevisions and he was on the Concert Committee. I worked security for the Springsteen show, 36 years later it’s still the best concert I ever saw. Why didn’t I get a personal thank you, Bakes? Did you forget that I picked up Harry and Tom Chapin from the airport because I had the best car, according to you? Just kidding, great article and great video and would love to talk to you sometime about PPB, Oneida, Al Bonadonna, and everything we experienced together at Oswego.

  13. Wow – A team indeed and yes, if it weren’t for individuals like David Braun – yes, he helped but he was also a PPB cinema genius (way ahead of his time), the forever popular Luke Birkeland who was a HUGE part of our success(also a great friend!) and Dauryne Valenti – in my opinion, the REAL reason we were successful. Dauryne meant the world to me and everyone on our crew – there would have been The Steve Miller Band instead of Billy Joel if not for Dauryne! Mary DeSimone was a treasure to us all and too sweet with her comments. I can not begin to tell all of you how much I miss you each of you, how much I cherish these memories and how special each of you are.

  14. Thanks for the great memories. I remember seeing so many of these shows you write and speak about – Springsteen, War, Earth Wind and Fire, Billy Joel, Dave Mason, Leo Kotke Livingston Taylor, Pousette-Dart Band and a show that ws just incredible by Jonathan Edwards in what used to be the girl’s gym – Lee Hall? Can’t really remember all of the concerts but one guest to the campus I’ll never forget was the talk Rod Serling did in the Union.

  15. My favorite show , I believe it was 1975, was Lou Reed, on the “Rock and Roll Animal” tour. Fantastic show ,I remember the Billy Joel concerts in 1974 and 1978, I beleive the 74 show was in Hewett Union for 75 cents! You also leave out the many times Harry Chapin appeared at the school, usually in the Union. Also will never forget John Mayall at the Gymnasium. Many great times at SUCO (At the time), many a great time at the College Tavern downstairs in the Union as well.

  16. Mark Baker – in the 1979 pic with Peter Gabriel, you look the spitting image of Weird Al Yankovich :)

    sounds like you guys had a hell of a great time, back in the day.. as you say, in the right time at the right place… god bless you all, you have some great memories and stories :)

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